Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tribe-less

Me at age 12, wearing the sort of stretch pants my mother bought for me which helped make me even more of a social pariah than I already was as a result of my weight.

Recently, in an exchange on Facebook in which I was frankly at least somewhat (if not greatly) out of line, one of my friends by way of the internet seemed to be saying that, since I'm no longer living in the "death fat" range of weight, I can't understand or appreciate the value of fat activists. I cannot say whether or not this is true. The truth is that I wasn't in the fat activism camp even when I was in the super morbidly obese weight range. I always had problems with the skewed manner in which many of them frame their world and the denial of the health problems that come along with being super morbidly obese.

I can't speak to how having lost weight may have impacted my view of the value of fat activists. I can only say that, the implication that I can't relate to the pain of being dramatically overweight and what it is like to live like that upset me. I felt as if my experiences and knowledge were being invalidated because I've not been in that weight range for the last few years.

Me at age 14, trying to hustle out of camera range because I loathed having my picture taken because I was so disgusted by my appearance. Note the double chin which I hated.

That being said, perhaps the fault lies with me because I haven't spent enough time talking about my history and what I grew up like. It's one thing to follow my recovery process. It's another to know very clearly how little of my life has been spent in any mental or physical space that can be considered in the ballpark of "recovered". To that end, I'm offering this post.

Me at 17, at my high school graduation sporting the sort of body that insured that I'd never get a date, go to a prom, or be seen as anything but an ugly mass of flesh. This was in 1982, and I was the only fat girl in my entire class. The world was not yet full of super obese people.

I have lost significant amounts of weight twice in my life. The first time I remained at various weights under 200 lbs. for approximately 3-4 years before regaining. Most recently, in the past 3 1/2 years, I've lost weight and maintained around 180-190 lbs. in the last year only. Note that I choose the sub-200-pound range because I have learned that that is the point at which you tend to not be treated as in incredible fat freak in my experience. I'm speaking of the perceptions of that weight range at this time in history only. When I was growing up, I was tormented for weighing less than that.

Keeping in mind that I had to go down from 380 to my current weight and spent many of my "losing" years at extremely high weights and totaling the years of my adult life, here are some numbers:

lowest weight ever: approx 160 lbs.
time spent at lowest weight ever: approx. 1 year

highest healthy weight for someone my height: 145 lbs.
number of adult years spent at a "normal" weight: 0

Current age: 48
number of adult years spent at under 200 lbs.: approx. 5
number of childhood years spent at a "normal" weight: 8
number of years spent in the obese or super obese range: 35

Me before my wedding (age 24), having regained a lot of the weight I lost at the end of college. This was hardly the end of it. Much more was to come.

That means that I've spent 35 years of my life and all but about 5 of my adult years grossly overweight and in a state of self-loathing, social isolation and torment, and physical difficulty. The 8 years I spent as a child (from birth to some point in 3rd grade) were hardly ones in which I was aware enough to appreciate not being fat.

And just for the record, the pic on the left was me in 2009 (age 46) after having already lost about 30 lbs. I looked like that for at least 10 years. A line can be drawn from how I looked at my wedding in 1989 to 2009 to show how my weight escalated.There aren't any pictures, because I wouldn't let them be taken at that weight.

My point is that I could hardly have forgotten what it is like to live in the world as a super fat person given that I spent 35 years mired in such a state. That means I've been obese or super obese longer than some overzealous fat activists have been alive! I have spent a lot more time being afraid to leave the house for fear of mocking, afraid of not fitting in chairs, afraid of the physical pain that came with walking in that body, and afraid of not being able to two squeeze into narrow spaces than I've spent not thinking about such things.

Sometimes, I still think about them, to be honest. Ridding myself of that mindset doesn't come easy. I still think about whether or not I'll fit in a bathroom stall, squeeze my fat ass past a narrow gap between chairs in a  restaurant, or if people are staring and pointing at my gut and laughing at me. If people look in my direction and say something to a friend and laugh, I still think it's about my body. I still suffer from fat PTSD.

Also, it's not like I'm all skinny and trim now. I'm 5' 4" (164 cm) and weigh on average 185 lbs. (84 kg.) I'm still technically obese.I still have a huge flap of skin hanging down from my stomach as well as a large belly. I'm still fat, just not fat enough to prohibit me from walking, getting on public transportation, or going to a restaurant. I'm not complaining about my current weight, but I am still fat. There's no mistaking that.

What I'm realizing is that my voice is now doubly not taken seriously because of where I'm at. I'm not fat enough to be taken seriously as someone who has experienced life as a "death fat" (despite spending an overwhelming amount of my life in that range) and I'm not thin enough to be taken seriously as a person who has successfully lost weight.

Neither of these tribes would welcome me as a member because I'm a betrayer to both. By losing weight, my years and years of experience suffering as a super fat person appear to have lost all validity. By not losing enough weight, the manner in which I have lost has no validity. Frankly, while I find it upsetting that anyone could think I've forgotten how horrible it is to be super fat in a world which hates you, I've also figured out a few other things about the "fat mindset" as a result of this which are setting me along an entirely new path of thinking. I'm sure I'll share it here when I'm ready. And I'm nearly as sure that it'll get me in a lot of trouble.

3 comments:

LHA said...

I love the phrase you mentioned, "fat PTSD". I will be turning that over in my mind for quite a while. I will be very interested in forthcoming posts.

hopefulandfree said...

You certainly end this post on a provocative note! Looking forward to reading more of your personal insights.

I'm curious if you are able to make a clear distinction between, say, "fat PTSD" and "fat stigma PTSD"---because I've had to explore that dichotomy a lot to understand more about my own "fat mindset" from the past, and as it still lingers for me, even with a "normal" size body. I find it's not always very easy to separate the different sources of suffering, suffering which results mostly from social oppression and internalized oppression from having a stigmatized identity---and the suffering which resulted more from health problems or limitations associated with physical size. As I said, I look forward to your thoughts in future posts!

screaming fatgirl said...

Thanks to both of you for your comment.

Hopefulandfree: Your comment raises an intellectually provocative question which I hadn't considered, but find of great interest. I did not distinguish between "fat PTSD" and "fat stigma PTSD", but there is certainly a difference there.

I would guess that "fat PTSD" would be related to internal processes and fears resulting from the humiliation one feels from not fitting in a seat on public transport, squeezing uncomfortably down tight aisle spaces, knocking things over when you turn around, etc. "Fat stigma PTSD" would be the result of the horrible treatment obese people often receive.

Strictly speaking, and extrapolating on the meaning of PTSD as a disorder, I think that the stigma-related experiences would be a more accurate use of the term since "trauma" is involved. Internal processes can't really be categorized as traumas, though I guess the repeated humiliation you feel as a result of living in a world that does not accommodate your body could be considered traumatic.

This is a point that I think I need to consider more when I have the time. It's the sort of thing which tends to jump into my head while I'm in the shower. ;-)